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Hannah stood in front of Emily’s bed. The woman was motionless, the slow blips on her monitor the only sign she was alive. Hannah considered speaking. She wasn’t sure if it would do any good. There was so much she wanted to say, for the woman’s comfort and for hers. Hannah figured it would only make Emily feel worse. As if sensing Hannah’s indecision, she stirred.
“Emily?” Hannah said. “Emily, can you hear me?”
She stiffened at the sound of Hannah’s voice. Slowly, she motioned for Hannah to come closer.
“Are you in pain?”
Emily continued to beckon her.
“I didn’t say this before,” Hannah said. “But you’re right. He’s in my head too. How did you do it? How did you escape?”
Emily’s lips moved. Hannah leaned forward.
“What did you say?”
Emily squeezed Hannah’s throat. She stared at her with black eyes. Her voice was thunder.
“MY RETURN DRAWS NIGH.”
Hannah woke up with a gasp. She put a hand to her throat. For a minute, all she could do was breath. She was in a parked cab. It was night outside. Popping open the door, she climbed out. Eventually, she remembered what happened. After an all too short break, she and Silas took a cab to some corner of the city. She must’ve fallen asleep on the way.
The neighborhood was shut down for the night, except for one store. A man she assumed was the cab driver walked back to the car. He looked at her and nodded.
“He went in there.”
The awning was unreadable. It’s greasy windows was still covered in decades-old circulars. She saw no shoppers inside. But in a corner of the door was stuck a foil decal. A yellow bowl overflowing with noodles and chop sticks.
“The Gold Saucer?”
An electric chime rang as she opened the door. A teenage girl was behind the counter, occupied with her phone. Hannah tapped the counter to get her attention.
“I don’t know how to put this, but… I’m looking for a club?”
The girl looked up at her just to roll her eyes. Putting down her phone, she beckoned Hannah to follow her. They passed through the convenience store to reach the back wall. It was wallpapered with fliers. She motioned for Hannah to knock.
“You want me to knock on the wall?”
She rolled her eyes again before walking back to the counter. With no other options available, Hannah knocked on the wall three times. It reverberated like a hollow drum. A door opened up, all on its own, revealing a staircase.
Once upon a time, the back rooms of many New York stores had been co-opted by organized crime. They were combined to form impressive spaces for their various activities. Hannah had thought it was just a legend. To date, this was the third secret room she had discovered behind a New York establishment. This one proved to be the worst.
Old black and white posters covered the walls. They had words like “Bad Brains” and “Misfits” above pictures of men with long hair and ratty clothes. She felt the music before she heard it, an erratic bass line and drums. Acrid smells wafted up to her as she reached the bottom landing.
A set of doors thrummed with the music. Only after walking through did Hannah see the bouncer. A five-piece punk band was on a stage to her left, destroying their instruments. Immediately in front of them was a crowd that fought more than danced. The rest of the hall was filled with tables and chairs, most of which were upside down.
Hannah pushed through the mob. She ducked to avoid a man and woman careening through the air, pulling at each other’s clothes. She couldn’t decide if they were fighting or making love. A trio of booths lined the wall. In the last one sat Silas. He was staring at a chess board. Across from him was a small, shriveled man. Hannah swore his skin was green.
Silas reached out and moved one of the chess pieces. He sat back, waiting for his opponent’s response. The goblin held a finger over the black king, one of the few remaining on the board. Four white pieces surrounded it. He moved his piece, only to move it back to its original place. He did this several times. He scowled as he examined the board. Silas folded his arms. Hannah watched his mouth as he said, “Checkmate.”
The small man flipped the board, sending the pieces into the air. He pointed an accusing finger at Silas. The music came to a stop. Silas picked up a little horse that fell into his lap. Closing it in his fist, he leaned over and slugged the man. His head bounced against the booth. Before he could retaliate, Silas had him by the coat. Dragging him from the table, he threw the man like a rag doll.
His tiny body sailed over the bar at the back of the club. Patrons moved aside, drinks in hand, as the man flew by. A bartender laughed as he wiped out a glass. The man was barely on his feet when Silas grabbed him again. Hannah’s ears were ringing, but she heard Silas shout.
“Fair and square, that’s what we agreed. Fair and square.”
“You cheated, kar’raq,” the man said.
“Then we do this the hard way.”
Silas knocked his skull into the bar. The man yelped and cradled his head.
Hannah grabbed Silas by the arm. “What the hell are you doing?”
He seemed to notice her for the first time. “Oh good, you’re awake.”
“Who is that guy?” she asked.
“This is Bolag,” Silas said, pushing the little man back with a knee. “Bolag the Terrible. Or Bolag the Tiny. Or Bolag the Snaggletooth. He’s got a lot of nicknames.”
“Are you trying to kill him?” Hannah said.
“Bolag is being stubborn,” Silas said. The man called Bolag got back up. Silas slapped him in the face. “He agreed to tell me what I needed to know, so long as I beat him in chess.”
That got Bolag a foot in the chest.
“But why are you hurting him?”
“This is how things work down here,” Silas said. “In case you didn’t notice.”
He swept a hand over the chaos that still writhed around them.
“I’ve noticed. This is the Gold Saucer? What kind of place is this?”
“This is a few steps from hell, girl,” Bolag said, his words a little slurred.
Silas slapped him again. “Did I say you can talk to her? Now I’m done asking nicely.”
He let Bolag go. The little man slid to the floor. He stood ungracefully, shooting a wad of blood from his nose. Picking up a leather cap, he returned it to his lumpy head.
Silas and Hannah followed him to a corner of the room. He sat, bow-legged, on a crate of beer. They bent down to listen.
“So, what do you want?” Bolag reached into his coat, pulling out bags of colorful powders. “I got it all.”
“We’re not here for drugs,” Silas said.
The man looked at him, confused. “You’re not?”
“No, I said ‘information.’ Do all your customers beat you for a fix?”
He shrugged. “Thought you were jonesing.”
Hannah looked at Silas. “This is the guy that Emily meant?”
“Do you see any other green men?” he said.
“Hey, don’t be rude. Me mother always said I was lovely.” Bolag smiled, proving his mother wrong.
“Yeah, you’re gorgeous,” Silas said. “I want to know about the fetishes you’ve been selling.”
“Fetishes? What is this New Orleans? The people around here only want one thing. And it ain’t fetishes.”
“I know you were selling a certain fetish,” Silas said. “Little wooden man with black eyes. You were probably told to sell them only to women.”
Bolag snorted. “Doesn’t ring a bell.”
“Do I need to rough you up some more?” Silas said.
“Go for it, my skull’s felt worse,” Bolag said. “You’ve got nothing on me.”
“This is serious,” Hannah said. “Those fetishes have been used to kidnap women.”
“Whoa,” Bolag said with a chuckle. “Not my racket. You women are too much trouble.”
“You don’t care that you’ve been implicated in the disappearance of almost a dozen women?” Silas asked.
Bolag squinted. “You’re not with those cops, are you? Tried to bust in. Never got it passed the grocery store. Stupid pigs think they can go anywhere they want.”
“Okay, Bolag,” Silas said. “If you’re not going to play nice, I’ll have to find another way to make you talk.”
“Threaten all you want,” Bolag said. “Cops can’t touch me. Nobody above ground even knows I’m alive.”
Silas smiled at the man. It wasn’t his usual smirk. “Who’s talking about cops? I know other kinds of people. People I’m sure you don’t want to meet.”
“Aylith comes to mind.”
Bolag’s face turned a paler shade of green. “How do you know that name?”
“Doesn’t matter how, does it?” Silas said. “What matters is, I’m sure the Tree Widow would love to meet someone like you.”
“One phone call,” Silas said. “That’s all.”
Bolag swallowed. His eyes darted from Silas to Hannah.
“I didn’t kidnap nobody,” he said finally. “I want to make that clear.”
“We don’t think you did,” Silas said.
“But, yeah. I sold a few of those fetishes.”
From the bag at his side, Silas produced the fetish. He shoved it into Bolag’s chest.
Bolag handled the doll for a moment and tossed it back.
“Yes. But I only had a few. Half dozen, tops.”
“Where did they come from?” Silas asked.
A queer look came over Bolag’s face, as if he was trying to decide to tell the truth.
“Fell off a truck,” Bolag said.
“Try again,” Silas said.
“That’s the truth,” he said. “I like to lurk around stores during deliveries, snatch up anything that looks valuable.”
“You’re lying,” Hannah said. “I can see it in your eyes.”
“I bet you can see a lot more on your back.”
Before the goblin could regret those words, Hannah had him by the neck. Bolag screamed, but his voice was drowned out in a new surge of music. Silas calmly followed Hannah as she dragged the man into a supply closet. He closed the door behind them. Hannah kicked Bolag like a soccer ball into the back wall.
“Dammit,” he said, trying to get up. “You’re psychos.”
Hannah reached into a box on the shelf. Without thinking, she launched a bottle at the man. It smashed above his head, showering Bolag with glass and beer.
Hannah threw a few more.
“I have been attacked. Arrested. Almost drowned. Almost possessed. All because of those dolls.”
Pulling the empty box from the shelf she threw it at him. “Tell me where you got them or I’ll make you half a man!”
“In your case, Bolag, that’s one fourth a man,” Silas said.
Bolag flinched as the box smacked his head.
“Ugg.” Beer was dripping down his shirt. “Nothing’s worth this.”
“Wanna change your story about the truck?” Silas asked.
The goblin raised his hands in surrender. “Listen, I had no idea what he was going to do with those dolls. I assumed he was from the Otherworld, otherwise he couldn’t have found me. But you gotta understand: a guy like that you just don’t say no to.”
“Daragon,” Hannah said.
Bolag cringed. “Don’t say his name.”
“Daragon, Daragon, Daragon,” Silas said.
“Keep your voice down,” Bolag said. “You don’t trifle with a lich.”
“You know his name,” Silas said. “You know he’s a lich. But you didn’t know what he was up to?”
“I assumed it was big,” Bolag said. “What with those husks running around.”
“What are husks?” Hannah asked.
“You know, those creatures in the sewers,” the man said. “I’m sure you’ve seen ’em. Used to be homeless people. Underground is lousy with the bastards these days.”
“You mean the shamblers,” Silas said.
“They’re called husk,” Bolag said. “Liches make ’em. Like undead puppets. Homeless are perfect patsies, they’re already near dead.”
“I prefer my name for ’em,” Silas said.
“No, ‘husk’ is much better,” Hannah said.
“Call them what you want,” Bolag said. “After this, they’ll be coming for me. Can’t betray Daragon and get away with it.”
“We’re going to stop him,” Silas said. Bolag responded with a snort.
“How many women did you sell these to?” Hannah asked.
“I don’t know, four or five,” he said.
“Remember selling one to a blonde woman?” she asked. “Skinny. On a date?”
“I don’t remember everyone who walks through those doors,” Bolag said. “But yeah, that rings a bell.”
“Where’s Daragon?” Silas said.
“He didn’t leave me a calling card,” Bolag said. “He found me.”
“You must’ve met somewhere,” Silas said.
“I got word that someone wanted to speak with me,” Bolag explained. “We met at night. Never saw his face, just a voice in the darkness. He wanted me to move some product. Said to only give them to women. ‘Give?’ I thought. If I’m gonna move these things, I’m gonna make some money. But I agreed and the fetishes arrived the next night.”
“None of that sounded strange to you?” Hannah asked.
“Girl, look at me. What do you think?”
“Where did this meeting take place?” Silas said.
“You don’t wanna go there,” Bolag said.
“Yes I do.”
The little man sighed. “Abandoned park. Some out-of-the-way part of Brooklyn. I think it was called Grayfriar Field.”
“Why there?” Hannah asked.
Bolag shrugged his narrow shoulders. “His idea.”
“You showed your face above ground?” Silas asked.
“It’s not an ordinary park,” Bolag said. “Has an eerie aura about it. Even the gangs keep away. Just my sort of place.”
“We should take a look,” Silas said to Hannah. “Thanks, Tattoo.”
“Shove it up your ass,” Bolag said, still having trouble standing up. Hannah offered a hand. He flinched, realized she was trying to help, and took it.
“Sorry about all that,” she said. “I dunno what came over me. I’m just stressed. And the music. Everyone else was fighting.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s the energy down here.” Bolag took a roll of paper towels from the shelf and dabbed himself dry. “Just close the door on your way out.”
They survived the walk through the club to the stairs. The doors closed behind them and Hannah felt sane enough to speak.
“What was that guy?” she asked.
“Bolag,” Silas said.
“You know what I mean.”
“One of the Outcasts,” Silas said. “Call him whatever fairy tale name you like. On this continent, there’s precious few places for them to hide. They all end up underground.”
“Didn’t know they emigrated,” Hannah said.
“They didn’t all have a choice.”
“So what was all that talk of, what did you call her, the Tree Widow?”
“Aylith,” Silas said. “Ancient demon that feeds on magical creatures that stray from their homes. Sort of a bedtime story they told to their kids.”
“And you know how to contact a thing like that?” she asked.
“Course not,” he said. “But Bolag didn’t know that.”
“I can’t believe I attacked him like that,” she said.
“Neither can I.” He gave Hannah a sidelong glance. “Holding that in for a while, huh?”
“It was the music,” she said. “What about you?”
Silas laughed. “Oh doll, that was nothing.”
They reached the store and the hidden door slid back into place. Immediately, the music from downstairs disappeared. They passed the girl at the counter, who didn’t look up to wish them a good night. Outside, the air felt cold and damp. Snow threatened to fall.
“We should tell Lang and McClelland what we learned, right?” Hannah asked. “We’re a team now.”
“They refused to hire us,” Silas said.
“But it could be dangerous.”
“You’re safer with me than with them,” he said. “Besides, we’re just looking around an old park. We’ll call Rocky and Bullwinkle if we need them.”
“I don’t think that’s smart,” Hannah said.
“We can handle it,” Silas said. “Look how well we did with Bolag. This’ll be a piece of cake. We just need to find this park. I’ll check an atlas by at the apart–“
“Found it.” Hannah held out her phone proudly.
“Hmm. Maybe I should get one of those,” he said. “I recognize that area. Not a long ride.”
Silas waved at the cab driver, who started the engine. He climbed inside, leaving the door open for Hannah. The cabbie began to complain about having to wait all night. As Silas argued with the man, Hannah stepped out of view. Pulling up McClelland’s number, she sent him a text. She only managed the words, “Grayfriar Field,” before Silas hollered at her to get in. Stashing her phone, she climbed into the taxi before it could rumble away.